As August has gone and spring sets upon us we can already feel the warmth of summer on our skin during the early morning game drives. The sun also makes an appearance early and we will probably have to go out earlier in the next few days. August was exciting especially with regards to the lion sightings. I suspect that this will continue to volatile during the next few months.
Anyway let‘s start this report with the Hyena clan.
The Hyena clan.
The two hyena dens on the property still remain the highlight of all my sightings. I think the only possible sighting that could surpass this would be to see something that I have not seen in 14 years of guiding in Timabavati.
The social behavior that is displayed by the adult females with their cubs is just incredible and a rarity to actually witness simply because den sites are normally concealed deep in the bush.
As I have explained before in my last report hyenas are often portrayed of being the pirates of the bushveld and often have a bad reputation because they supposedly are stealing other predator‘s food. Little are we told that lions and leopard steal too when the opportunity arises simply because it is economical to do so in this competitive eco-system.
Spotted hyenas usually hunt almost any type of antelope in Timbavati either singly, or in groups of two or three. They can catch adult wildebeest usually after 5 km chases at speeds of up to 60 km/h. Chases are usually initiated by one hyena and, with the exception of cows with calves, there is little active defense from the wildebeest herd. Sometimes they will make an attempt to escape hyenas by taking to water though, in such cases, the hyenas almost invariably catch them. Zebras require different hunting methods to those used for wildebeest, due to their habit of running in tight groups and aggressive defense from stallions. Typical zebra hunting groups consist of 10-13 hyenas. During a chase, zebras typically move in tight bunches, with the hyenas pursuing behind in a crescent formation. Chases are usually relatively slow, with an average speed of 15-30 km/h. A stallion will attempt to place itself between the hyenas and the herd, though once a zebra falls behind the protective formation it is immediately set upon, usually after a chase of 3 km. Though hyenas may harass the stallion, they typically only concentrate on the herd and attempt to dodge the stallion’s assaults. Unlike stallions, mares in general only react aggressively to hyenas when their foals are threatened. Unlike wildebeest, zebras rarely take to water when escaping hyenas. When hunting impalas hyenas usually operate alone, and prey primarily on young fawns. Chases against both adult and young impalas can cover distances of 5 km with speeds of 60 km/h. Female impalas do not defend their fawns, though they may attempt to distract hyenas by feigning weakness.
Hyenas are super predators and this month I had a job to convince a good friend and guest of Kings Camp that hyenas are actually not the bad guys that we think them to be. To me this is merely trying to make a living in this difficult and aggressive eco-system.
Rhino and calf standing off against a large male rhino.
Our little female rhino calf is still seen frequently in our traversing. Surprisingly she is covering a lot of distance with her calf which it has no problem keeping up with her. I think this is partly due to the limitation of water resources especially now that we are at the driest time of the year. The lengthy travelling also exposes the calf to different territorial males as she travels through different male rhinos territories. When any female rhino moves through a bull‘s territory there is a possibility that she would soon be discovered and followed.
In our case the bulls has other intentions, like mating, much to the dislike of the cow and soon the interaction became aggressive.
Being a mother she aggressively attacked this bull that ventured to close and was left with facial scaring. The female is merely protecting her calf from the bulls that really have no intention to hurt the calf but to mate with the female.
We often encountered this type of sighting on drive and watched for an hour the standoff between the two. The large female is very aggressive and willing to stand her ground even again male rhinos that are larger than her. Mother instinct to protect is extremely strong.
I was also informed that lions attempted to kill the rhino calf one evening. The claw marks and blood can be clearly seen on the hind legs of the calf. This poor calf must have got the freight of its life and although it is rare for lions to kill a calf it would be very sad if they would be successful.
The lion dynamics in our area of traversing has gone through some harsh changes during the last 2 years. After making a huge attempt to take control I can with confidence say that the new 2 male‘s lions to our area are here to stay. They have already mated with 3 females from the Ross pride during the last few weeks.
Vuhlalu males, as they will be called, made their presence known as the advertised to all lions in the Kings Camp area and adjacent to us, that they have taken control. It is too early to say what will happen to the cubs from the Machattan pride but as an experienced ranger I would think that there is very little chance of them surviving. During the next few months I will update you of the progress of this pride.
The numbers of Leopard sightings have increased. This would be partly due to the absences of their larger cousins, the lions.
Ntombi and her son are still living in and around the camp and she has made the Nharalumi river her home. The cub which is now 8 months old is almost as big as his mother. It is strange to see a cub that is this young so large. One could only assume that he will be a very large male leopard.
Rockfig Jnr is still seen and has lost a few kills to hyenas. She has failed to see the danger and was not quick enough to hold her kills. She is a remarkable mother and so far has raised 2 cubs in her career as an adult.
That‘s all for this month – we hope that you enjoyed the report.